This song opens with a familiar expression in Jamaican patios, roughly translated: “What the @#$% is going on?” These were words uttered on a regular basis by the Jamaican studio owner who signed me with his independent label at Kingston Muzik.
Following the successful recording of my debut album What If I Told You in 1996, Kingston Muzik shopped the album at the Midem music conference in France in 1998. Independent reggae distributor Tabou 1 licensed the rights to sell the album in Europe and it received significant airplay on radio in France and in the Netherlands. There were giant posters promoting my first full-length album in the Paris subway and the record company had secured me a prime spot on the premiere reggae festival in Jamaica, Reggae Sunsplash. I was on my way!
I had the great fortune of recording the album with several members of The Wailers band including “Seeco” Patterson, “Chinna” Smith and Aston Barrett, plus a surprise guest appearance by Tyrone Downie on piano. What If I Told You went on to be nominated in the “Best Reggae Album” category at the 2000 Juno Awards back in Canada.
I continued writing, rehearsing and performing with my awesome reggae group Halfway Tree in Toronto. By this time the group had a reputation on the local club scene for bringing hearticle reggae to an expanding circle of fans.
I was however stopped in my tracks when my Mom called me with a cancer diagnosis in early 2000. I dropped everything and departed for Nova Scotia to be by her side. The prognosis was not good so I returned to Toronto and packed up my things and moved to Halifax to spend the rest of her days with her. Only, she died before I made it back. I attended the funeral in my hometown of Sackville, New Brunswick and then landed back in Halifax. I had let the momentum with my band slide and went into a period of mourning. After working at The Economy Shoe Shop food and beverage emporium for a couple of months I moved out to the family cottage with my keyboards and my dog, where I finished composing a collection of new material.
I called up the studio owner at Kingston Muzik, explaining that I was ready to record another album. Encouraging me to come, I called up Family Man to see if he would be willing to record another album together. We arranged to meet in Kingston immediately following the Wailers’ tour at the end of September.
Flanked by my close friends, guitarists Tyson Spinney and Tomaz “Moose” Jardim, I arrived at Kingston Muzik two weeks’ after September 11th, 2001. However, Family Man was nowhere to be found. We learned that the Wailers’ tour had been extended in Europe so I called up Chinna Smith, who connected me with hard working session bass player Christopher Meredith and his colleague, drummer “Squidly” Cole. This was the bass and drum team that was working with Ziggy Marley at the time. Needless to say, they threw it down in the studio, and within three days we had finished bed tracks for a full-length album. My friends and I busted it to the airport and flew back to Canada.
I spent the following months recording overdubs: horns and piano, clavinet, African guitar, sitar, clarinet, etc., before returning to Kingston to mix. I was stoked!
Shortly after my arrival, Chris and Squidly stopped by the studio for a visit. We had a quick listen to some of the tracks we had recorded together before they bid me a good night. The next day I went into the studio to resume work only to find that the audio tapes had mysteriously disappeared. In a classic Jamaican “bandulu” move, the rhythm section had “tiefed” the tapes, to hold to as ransom. I quickly learned that the studio owner/executive producer had not yet paid them for their session work. Much to my chagrin, the president of the Jamaican Musicians’ Union had to step in to set things straight with the studio and arrange that the musicians be paid their due before I could reclaim the tapes and continue work on the album. The musicians were paid and the tapes were safely returned.
Weeks went by as equipment failed and progress was stalled, as is typical of the Caribbean, so I grew frustrated and packed up to leave. Upon my arrival in Montego Bay after a day’s journey by bus, my heart sank to discover that the audio tapes I had safely packed in my bags contained only empty shells. Stolen for a second time, I could only presume that the executive producer was protecting his investment by withholding the tapes.
I spent several months in Canada restoring my faith in humanity before returning to Kingston Muzik to recover a “back up” set of tapes. I returned to Nova Scotia and although there were bits and pieces of what I had recorded missing, I managed to secure all the bed tracks. I booked out a great studio in Halifax called Common Ground and went to work. I had to hire a horn section to redo the parts, since the only surviving horn part was the sweet trombone solo by William Carn that opens the song (to follow). With the help of accomplished studio engineer Chris Mitchell, I managed to pull the album together. The Only Constant was seven years in the making.
The album received critical acclaim upon its release in 2008 and the song “Ease Off The Pressure” sat at number one on CBC’s Galaxie reggae channel for four months. Even though the song was written before it was recorded, the lyrics certainly are apropos.